U.S. – Persian Gulf Nations' Relations Sour over Ukraine, Russia, Yemen, and Oil
By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer
The Biden administration is dealing with worsening relationships with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Relations have become strained due to their refusal to increase oil output during a worldwide fuel shortage generated by the Russia-Ukraine war. The Gulf countries also failed to condemn Putin for his attack on Ukraine. Conversely, Saudi is angered with the U.S. for failing to protect it against Houthi-launched missiles from Yemen.
Biden administration’s relations with Gulf nations already stressed over Yemen and Iran
As if Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had not stretched the Biden administration enough, its relationships specifically with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have strained it even more. That they did not condemn Putin for his wanton attack on Ukraine and, furthermore, their refusal to increase oil output during a worldwide fuel shortage only worsened Washington-Gulf relations.
The “gulf” between Washington and the UAE and Saudi is deeper than we see on the surface. As an example, the Washington Post reported, “Gulf officials describe a mix of complaints that have caused them to doubt U.S. security guarantees, including what they consider the administration’s failure to respond vigorously enough to ongoing missile attacks on their countries by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, and its eagerness to sign a new nuclear deal with Tehran that does not address Iranian aggression in the region.”
Beyond those complaints, the Gulf countries and Saudi feel the U.S. is portraying a lack of respect towards them. Rather than just policy issues, they see Washington as disrespecting them on a personal level. An example of this is the Saudi charge that President Biden referred to the Kingdom as a “pariah” state and that, Biden has to date not met nor spoken with the de facto leader Mohammed bin Salman.
On the Emirati side, their Crown Prince, Abu Dhabi’s Prince Mohammed bin Zayed has expressed anger that he had had no VIP visits from U.S. officials. Particularly irritating to the Emiratis is what they consider a lukewarm U.S. response to Houthi missile attacks from Yemen on oil tankers in Abu Dhabi. They also fear an expanding role for Iran if they are allowed to re-sign the nuclear agreement that the former U.S. president abrogated.
Since then, however, Secretary of State Blinken has met with bin Zayed. Blinken laid it on thick with comments about the importance of the U.S.-Emirati partnership and the growing importance of the latter’s leadership in the world.
On Washington’s side, the administration is annoyed with the Gulf region for carrying on business as usual, despite the atrocious Russian attack on Ukraine and the big rise in oil prices. Especially irritating is the absence of any apparent incentive among the Gulf countries to lower their costs on oil production, given the inflated prices Americans are now forced to pay at the pump.
Gulf oil as a crucible for Europe — as the Russian-Ukraine war rages on
What has especially annoyed the Biden administration is that Gulf oil producers have refused to take sides in this horrendous, unnecessary war of choice. At the same time, European supporters of Ukraine fear the stoppage of Russian gas supplies. This coincides with Saudi, UAE, and Qatar’s refusal to boost production, much less to divert existing supplies to Europe.
Since Russia produces about one-third of the European Union’s gas consumption, a cutoff of that supply has a considerable impact on EU countries. A report by This Week in Asia noted, “Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar have dashed Europe’s hopes of providing an alternative to Russian hydrocarbons amid the Ukraine crisis, after confirming that they would not be taking sides in the conflict.”
The role of oil in this conflict has reared its ugly head. And, even though reducing the world’s use of this carbon-emitting product could conceivably induce incentives to shift to non-carbon energy sources, that scenario is not realistic soon. More important is for world powers to find a way to stop Russia’s relentless murdering of Ukrainian civilians, in what is now rolling up to atrocities that are war crimes, perhaps bordering on outright genocide.
The three major oil exporters confirmed their neutral stance and their commitment not to divert supplies to Europe. Rubbing salt in the wound, Saudi Prince bin Salman told French President Macron, “Riyadh was committed to its ‘OPEC-plus agreement’ with Russia, the world’s second-largest exporter of oil.” That meant that neither Saudi nor the other Gulf states would fill the breach where Russian gas supplies to Europe were cut.
The role of oil in this conflict has reared its ugly head. And even though reducing the world’s use of this carbon-emitting product could conceivably induce incentives to shift to non-carbon energy sources, that scenario is not realistic soon. More important is for world powers to find a way to stop Russia’s relentless murdering of Ukrainian civilians, in what is now rolling up to atrocities that are war crimes, perhaps bordering on outright genocide.
“Ukraine has widened the breach between U.S. and Persian Gulf countries,” Washington Post, 3/30/2022
“Ukraine crisis: Gulf energy exporters refuse to take sides as fears mount in Europe over Russian gas supplies,” This Week in Asia, 3/1/2022
John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.
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